- driving long distances
- setting up in a hostel
- meeting other backpackers
- And when it was time, move onto the next location.
These experiences are some of my memorable ones from that time. When I started this trip, apart from seeking work, I had no plan as to what I was going to do; it kind of evolved as I drove along. This was also the first time that I started writing about my experiences; there was a lot of idle time to sit around whilst looking for work.
Of my three trips, this is the only one that included working whilst I travelled.
Working holiday visas to Australia are very popular for foreign backpackers and working across the country is a great way to see Australia. A few English friends have told me about what they have seen, so I figured I’d see what all the fuss was about and join the rush. I have often run across other travellers that tend see more of other countries whilst away rather than their own home, as this was also my experience. In my mind this was an issue that needed to be corrected as I believed, and still do, that if it’s important to see the world, then that should include home too.
I’ll be focusing on three periods:
- my time in the Victorian town of Mildura and some of the places I visited whist living there,
- the road trip to and Western Australia; and,
- the last leg is when I decided to give up the work part of my trip and just travelled, heading from Broome to Darwin, Cairns and back home.
This map indicates where I spent some time, months or weeks. There were also several stops in between. I drove closer to 25,000km over the 10 months.
And I apologise to any Tasmanians if you take offence as this trip does not include your island. I also apologise for removing you from the map and am aware that you are a part of Australia.
Please note that at the time any photos you see were taken with a camera phone, so the quality is not too good. I learnt the importance of a dedicated camera on trips two and three.
Also note that at times I can be sarcastic in nature and this may be reflected, for example my focus on a “career” in fruit picking “see below”.
Welcome to Episode 2 of The Travel Bug! It’s been a little over a week ago that Dave and I released our initial travel blog and its high time we picked it up again.
This is part 1 of a 3-part journey around Australia and would benefit those travellers / tourists that have plans on doing the same. Dave’s matter-of-fact approach with these entries, on parts of Australia worth visiting and others that seemed like a snooze, sure comes across when he’s writing (but trust me when I say that the lovable larrikin is quite a tongue-in-cheek kinda guy e.g. those Tasmanian references).
Why follow this 3-part series? Because you always wanted to know what it’s like driving around Australia. And Dave is a damn interesting guy.
Why follow The Travel Bug? Repeat the above but replace ‘Australia’ with another ‘name country’ (after we finish this 3-part mini).
A word to remember if it’s still not obvious: these are Dave’s stories within my blog. I’ll sometimes sign-off as ‘Ed’ as in Editor (so I’ll use PC and Ed interchangeably).
This is part 1 of Travelling Australia and covers this particular area of the map:
Last thing: words in bold (like this) are hyperlinks. These are usually, but not limited to, different places around Australia. Go on, hover your mouse over them and follow Dave by clicking them.
I will not steal anymore of your time and let the story breath.
Travelling Around Australia
Nov 2004 – Feb 2005
Mildura here we go!
The night before I left Sydney I had a going away party and I’d slept over at a friend’s place as I was officially homeless and unemployed. Id given up my successful IT position and my lease and it was time to embrace the unknown. Needless to say I was extremely hangover from the previous night’s antics when I jumped into my ute (utility vehicle or pickup truck), a 1995 Falcon that could carry one ton of cargo or allegedly 3 people in the cabin. It was not particularly economical on fuel, though it was quite quick.
Note: If ever planning to do this, do not – even though in my mind, the ute is Australian – drive a pickup; as you are unable to carry more than one passenger comfortably. A high-powered six cylinder engine is not very economic on fuel and camping in the back under the stars, whilst is good for a night or two, it gets boring quickly and you would be better off in a station wagon where you can also sleep and lock up your essentials, clothes, cooking gear and such. A four-cylinder Toyota would be a much wiser choice.
I headed off to the Blue Mountains to visit friends for the night. This first leg of my trip only took a few hours and involved another leaving do; I spent the evening the Federal Government general election in 2004. I liken my politics to sport and fortunately my team one, though the friends I was staying with were not as impressed as they went for the opposition and I let them know my thoughts several times (quite loudly) on how impressed I was with the result.
The next day – hangover 2 – I headed down to Melbourne to stay with my Grandmother and Grandfather. Upon arrival I spent the next week eating my Granny’s Austrian cooking which consisted of traditional Eastern European saucy food and the more traditional Australian schnitzel. This also involved drinking home-brew and Stroh rum with my Grandfather. After a week I realised this was how I used to spend my holidays before Id moved to London a few years earlier so I quickly packed up, jumped in my ute, left my comfort zone and went off in search of what is known as the “Harvest Trail”.
The Harvest Trail
The Harvest Trail is a network of farms around the country that offers work to backpackers though a Government website. I believe the government coined the phrase, The Harvest Trail. The types of people applying for these jobs include those who don’t necessarily want to work in an office environment as they do back home. There were also those that don’t have the English skills to work in the cities, (non-native English speakers), and foreign students who more than likely actually had no work experience and it was their first trip away from home. There was also myself and a few other Australians that I met though most of them were not on a trip, more just trying to find employment. Australians were in the minority regarding this type of work. A fact is if you are a foreign backpacker and work on a farm for three months, your one year working visa can be extended to two.
And the drive up
My trip really started as I headed down Victoria’s Ocean road, a spectacular 260km drive that hugs the Victorian coastline the coast line at the bottom of the country (again apologies Tasmania). The most interesting part of this is the 12 Apostles, massive tinged orange rock formations rising out of the ocean opposing the cliff face on which the road sits and where I had a good view. Unfortunately I am lousy at using colourful metaphors to describe nature and so won’t be doing this too often (thanks to the Editor for hyperlinks – Dave)
[No worries matey – Ed].
I only counted 7 Apostles at the time as the rest had fallen into the sea so if you want to see what the fuss is about I’d get there sooner than later. I would say that the drive is far more enjoyable than the Apostles.
I spent a night in my first hostel in Warrnambool, one of the towns along the drive. Unfortunately there was nobody there, so apart dinner at a local hotel. I was rather bored and decided to head back and go to sleep; it was my first night and not the most exciting way to spend the first day of my new adventure.
The next day I kept travelling along the road and up to The Grampians, a mountain range with rather spectacular views (as indicated lousy metaphors). After staring at these “grand and lonely landscapes” for a few hours (maybe minutes), I headed to the town of Horsham and had another somewhat boring night at the local pub with no one to talk too.
The following day I drove to Mount Gambier, famous for its twin volcano craters, one crater with a greenish colour to the water, the other bright blue, quite bizarre to look at. That night I stayed in another hostel, no one there either and I spent the night staring at Test cricket in the local pub, the cricket was slowly becoming my best friend. A local mentioned that there might be work in Mildura, not far north, so I figured that might be worth a look. I rang ahead and they had vacancies.
The following day I went and did a tour of the Naracoorte Caves, a set of underground caves, stalagmites and stalactites and all quite dark. It was on the UNESCO list of things to do though all I could really thing about was when I was going to meet some people and earn some much-needed cash to fuel my rather thirsty ute.
The next day I headed to Mildura, and really hoping that there was there would be people to meet as the first few nights had not gone as I expected.
The United Nations of Mildura
Upon arriving in Mildura I wasn’t sure what to expect…
“I need not have concerned myself in retrospect because the next couple of months in this hostel were some of the best experiences of my life.”
Upon arrival, I was greeted by the friendly proprietor of a hostel I decided to stay I was allocated a bunk bed and was immediately welcomed by other backpackers at the hostel, a mixture of Aussies, Germans, English, Koreans and a mix of a few other nations The hostel itself was an old house, rather large in size and held around 30 beds or so. There was also large yard around the back with a couple of sheds; I could tell it was not a purpose-built hostel by any means. The hostel was at around half capacity, however more backpackers started turning up over the next few weeks and a core of the people I met there stayed the same time that I was there, for those couple of months.
Settling right in
The purpose of the hostel or work hostel was to find anyone staying there, work. This could involve farm work, factory work, sanitation work, actual any type of low paid manual labour. Rent was paid on a week by week basis and whilst initially there was nothing available, work started to come in as the fruit picking season started. The hostel also had a fleet (well four) mini vans so that backpackers could drive themselves to the various work sites around the area. These vans were not in the best of condition, I even managed to blow up the engine in one. They were adequate for getting to the jobs though.
My first weekend involved eating, drinking, attending a local wine festival and listening to free jazz along one of the many parks dotted down the Murray River (which forms the state line between NSW and Victoria and why the border looks funny on a map for any non-Australians reading this). There were some beaches (more of an inlet with some sand) along the river with life guards, Mildura is nowhere near the ocean but there was an issue with tides and people drowning. The town has a population of around 30,000 and had a few pubs and restaurants, it was relatively quiet compared to the noise of Sydney but had much more going on than the first three towns I had visited. The town centre itself was quite small, had all the amenities such as a supermarket, cinema, takeaway food. It is well-known as a fruit picking town, and much larger than other towns surrounding it.
During my stay in Mildura I acquired a variety of jobs, rates of pay were anywhere between $3 (unfortunately) and $16 an hour, not quite what I was used to in income but more than enough to pay for fuel, food and alcohol.
The Work: All you need to know about Fruit Picking
There is two types of fruit picking work, “Paid by the Bucket” which effectively means you’re paid for the amount of fruit you pick, and “Paid by the Hour” which is (was) between$11 and $13.50 an hour.
I quickly learnt that being paid by the hour was far more preferable to being paid by the bucket. The only day I spent on the bucket was 8 hours on a bean farm; back-breaking – which involved leaning on your knees all day looking for beans to pick though the foliage, I managed to make $40 in a day. After tax that dropped further and then adds the cost of fuel and 1.5 hour’s drive there and back it ended up 24 dollars.
The highlight of the day was getting into a sing-along with three Kenyans that were staying at the farm, the Kenyans and some Indians lived on the farm and had been doing so for years. The government would classify them as illegal immigrants and they were receiving “cash-in-hand” if you don’t know this is less income but pay no taxes. It’s difficult for farmers to find labour in the outlying regions and difficult for people with no working visas . The farm foreman asked me back for the next day, an offer I politely declined so I took my 24 dollars back to Mildura and all I could afford was beans and a box of “Goon” for the night.
If you are wondering what Goon is, it’s the backpacker’s favourite travel companion The working backpacker cannot afford the pub or a 24 box of 24 beers, so the only option is a four to five litre box of wine that costs between $10 and $15 dollars ($25 for the good quality). It guarantees a quick and cheap ride to drunkedness , the wine is mixed with fish parts (and grapes) and the silver bladder in which the wine is held can often make a good pillow after all the wine has been finished. I prefer my Goon chilled to disguise the flavour, the colder the better as it helps with the burn. It’s also guaranteed to cause some shocking hangovers.
Spiders, Snakes and Stuff in Australia
I had various outdoor fruit picking jobs such as vine training (running vines along a wire fence to ensure they grow correctly), vine thinning (ripping off foliage so the vine so as it can grow faster), orange thinning (see vine thinning) and grape picking. It was all very hard work for little pay, it’s very good camaraderie though with fellow backpackers, and a great way to get a tan and maybe a nap when the foreman is away. If you fear spiders, snakes or bugs however, I do not recommend this line of work.
Working in the Outback
When the opportunity came to quit my fruit picking career, I took up a more rewarding role with packing oranges at the local shed. The plus about this job was the indoor air conditioning, though lifting boxes manually onto pallets from a conveyor belt at around 20 kg per box for 8 hours, tends to make the mind wander a little. Due to my good work on the boxes, I was promoted to forklift driver, a more lofty position which is quite skilled and involves obtaining a license. I did not have a license or an opportunity to obtain one, so learnt the skill on the job. Driving forklifts was better than packing boxes, which was better than picking fruit. A career in the harvest industry was there for the taking. Note that if caught driving a forklift without a license, it’s a heavy fine from the government.
After going through a moral crisis as to whether I wanted to keep pursuing my career in the harvest industry, a unique position was offered to me though the hostel, a job for the local recycling centre . This was the best job I had while living in Mildura. , I received $16 an hour and because I was Australian, it was assumed by the foreman that I was more trustworthy than a foreigner so I was sent on the furthest routes out-of-town, some up to 400 km round trips. Please note that not all Australians, including myself, regard foreign backpackers as untrustworthy, but this is not always the case with some Aussies living in rural Australia.
The job involved getting up at five in the morning, driving to a depot to pick up a four ton truck with attached trailer, equal in size and then drive a designated route. I would go to people’s houses, pick up recycling from the front of the house, separating cardboard, plastic, glass and garbage and placing it in the truck. After a truck was filled, I then returned to base and it was unloaded. Because I was quite quick at this (rural work tends to make you really fit) I often would take a nap or a swim at one of the many local water holes dotted around the town before heading back to the centre.
And oh, this is me:
Sadly I almost ended up in a punch up with one of the local Aussie workers at the depot, there are a few redneck aggressive types, one of which intimidated a German friend from the hostel so I stepped in and had a verbal altercation and I resigned that day. Being an Australian does not mean that I should be put into the better positions and given more trust than a foreign backpacker, however the rather large itinerant workforce of foreign backpackers meant that some Australians had developed trust issues with those backpackers., In summary, this was better job than working in a shed or on a farm as it gave me a lot of freedom to see the area. After resigning I shortly left town later, this was my last job in Mildura..
Broken Hill and Tourism
Whilst I was living in Mildura, I did manage to do some touristic activities such as driving to Broken Hill with three others from the hostel for the weekend. Broken Hill is a mining town, whilst the mining has been drying up, it is becoming a place of residence for artists and their galleries, which I attended a few. There is also the Living Desert Sculptures, a series of sculptures by famous local artists in the middle of the desert. Another think I noticed was that appeared to be a large amount of pubs to service a small population. A leftover from the mining days I suppose or there is not much to do there apart from drinking.
More than art and mines however, I was interested in checking out Mad Max’s Interceptor (if you don’t know what Mad Max is, shame on you, look it up). This very large, black car was parked out at the Silverton hotel, a pub just outside of Broken Hill. The pub itself was rather old with photos of the movie Mad Max and another called Razorback that were shot on location there many years before. I was tempted to have a few beers at the pub, unfortunately there were also police there on lunch and being responsible, stuck to lemonade. We also visited the museum where the Royal Flying Doctors Service started, but the museum there was a plane and a shed, however Mad Max’s car was much more interesting.
New Year’s Eve in Adelaide
Another trip was down to Adelaide for New Years and Kangaroo Island to see the wildlife. A German friend of mine and I wanted to leave Mildura to do something different so headed to Adelaide, its known for its Churches, wine, some malls and Glenelg Beach (amongst other things). I won’t go into to many details regarding Adelaide as I did not spend long there.
The new year’s celebration was fairly disappointing , Glenelg beach where went to celebrate is really a lovely setting, but loads and loads of drunken underage teenagers and an ordinary set of fireworks didn’t really do much for me. Lucky I had a load of beer (South Australian beer is excellent) so it dulled my senses to the ordinary show. Being from Sydney with their rather epic New Year celebrations, I suppose night shows were always going to be a little disappointing, not that I am particularly excited by New Year’s generally.
We travelled down from Adelaide to Kangaroo Island, using a ferry to get across. The island was amazing, it’s littered with a variety of Australian wildlife including kangaroos, wombats, emus, koalas and other cuddly creatures and birds, and it’s excellent if you want to see every cute marsupial in Australia in one spot. It also has a collection of caves, seals and some excellent not so crowded beaches. The highlight for me though was the Remarkable Rocks, a national park on the ocean that features truly unique rock formations, bright orange and grey in some very weird monstrous looking settings. At they say, remarkable.
Yes, spectacular even.
How to be a local Celebrity
Other highlights with my time in Mildura included having my photo on the front page of the local paper, twice.
I was there first for forming part of the “backbone” of Mildura. Part of Mildura’s economy is fruit picking and the backpackers that come to town do work the season. There are several hostels in town for this type of work and thousands come every year. The irony of this though was at the time, I was unemployed and that was the reason I had my photo in the paper.
The overwhelming majority of locals appreciate the large contingent of foreign backpackers that come to town. Without them there would not be the workforce for harvest season, and it also brings valuable tourist dollars to the area. The newspaper featuring our hostel was a way of showing appreciation for the effort on the part of the media and there was a lot of positive feedback from locals i.e. “Good on you mate” in the local supermarket or when locals would come to visit the hostel and hang around for a cup of tea.
Dave in ‘The News’ (in red) – Ed
[ Note: I am actually unemployed in this photo ]
The second time I was in the paper was celebrating Christmas in Mildura, myself and a friend were on the front holding a turkey (which I had no part in cooking, I just happened to be photogenic apparently). I’m not in the habit of celebrating Christmas without immediate family but over the months I had been there, the bond Id formed with the people working there felt like family. As I said earlier, the core group stayed there for the same season I had been there so I had gotten to know everyone pretty well. The Germans, English, Welsh, Belgians, Koreans and Aussies, all became good friends, whether working in the fields or sharing a box of Goon, it felt like family.
The last party before I left was celebrating Australia Day with all my foreign friends. I splurged on a case of beer and this ended up in quite a mess. There was an award ceremony to which I picked up a couple of awards including biggest beer drinker and the best and worst dressed prom queen. I was given a certificate of achievement from the Koreans for attempting to learn their language, though to be honest I think they were humouring me. I managed a few “romances” while I was there, but, I mostly enjoyed hanging out, discussing Australia and the world and forming new friendships, the work was even interesting some of the time.
It sadly came time to leave, a few of us decided to head over to Western Australia to see what it was like over there. An English friend of was coming along and we were going to meet other across the Nullabor, it was time to go see more of the country…..
Great entry, right? Unfortunately, Dave lost his best and worst dressed prom queen pics :) But I am really starting to appreciate Dave more when I go through these.
One thing we will attempt from now on in: we will try to include photos (subject to their availability of course).
Up next – Part 2 and 3 entries on:
- Nullarbor Plain
- Other areas including Albany, Perth, Broome, Darwin, Cairns etc.
- The Party Hostel (sounds like fun)
- and much MUCH more.
And on a final note, Dave reminded me that he is off travelling once again in May. So we might get through a few entries before we go quiet for a bit, until chief storyteller settles back down.
Until the next time!
Read: The Travel Bug Episode 3
The Travel Bug
The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world.
Dave is a Technology specialist by day and social butterfly by night. He is scheduled for yet another trip in May – July ’14.
PC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.
We hope to entertain you through this collection of stories.